Karlo Sy Su is the Digital Content Manager for ESPN Los Angeles – the flagship station for the Los Angeles Lakers, Rams, and LA FC. Karlo spoke at the 2023 BSM Summit and since that presentation, there have been some exciting developments at ESPN LA on the digital side.
ESPN LA has the largest cumulative social media following in sports radio. 518K follow the brand on Facebook, 246K on Instagram, 95K on X, and 17K on TikTok. Another 37K consume the brand’s content on YouTube. That’s just under one million collectively across all platforms. All of that by the way is without adding the station’s radio audience.
In our conversation, Karlo explains why niche audiences on social deliver greater impact, how sponsorship activations work in the form of social campaigns, how ESPN LA leverages its flagship partnerships to develop unique content and how social media can greatly expand the impact of terrestrial radio.
Sports media professionals are encouraged to watch the full version of the interview on our YouTube page. Also, if you haven’t checked out our prior interviews with other social media managers, click here. Please be aware that the interview below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Alex Reynolds: Put me in your day-to-day and tell me about the team that you work with on the digital side. From your interaction with talent, PDs and others inside ESPN LA.
Karlo Sy Su: What we love Alex is that not a day goes by where it’s the same old same old. Going into the day, a lot of constant communication goes on between the digital team, which I’m proud to say I have a digital team. I know a lot of sports stations or radio stations in general can’t afford even just one person to dedicate to social media. Because of Good Karma Brands and the load that we cover, we’re able to utilize part timers who are hungry to participate in producing digital content and finding ways to create opportunities for themselves.
That communication also involves the content team and the sales marketing consultant team. That allows us to be on the same page when it comes to creating content. Having that same mindset and those same goals of who we want to target our content to.
AR: What would you say the top three platforms are for ESPN Los Angeles?
KS: I always love that question. Instagram, to me, is such a great network to be able to engage with our fans. The engagement rate for us is much higher on Instagram than on other platforms. Because of that, we prioritize Instagram to communicate directly with those who are consuming our content.
YouTube is also up there. I would rank that as like a 1a and 1b not even a one and two. YouTube we prioritize as a platform to live stream nine hours of daily programming. We’ve used YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and X to stream and simulcast our radio shows. We’re able to surprise our fans and partners by showing them that ESPN Los Angeles is no longer a station on your radio dial inside your car. You’re able to stay connected with us no matter where you are, on your phone or on your computer.
AR: Why is it important to be on not just live streaming on your primary channel, but every channel possible?
KS: We cater to our audience! Our audience doesn’t have channels on every platform. So we’re making it as easy as possible for our audience to access us. If you’re connecting with us on X, we want you to be one tap away from following us and able to communicate. If you are on Facebook it’s the same thing. We want to make it as easy as possible by being on as many platforms as possible.
AR: Tell me about the growth strategies that you go through at ESPN LA.
KS: We let our content do a lot of the talking. By doing that, it shows that our audience is willing to engage with it. And they show that they’re hungry for more. We want to follow the numbers, study the analytics, know what is and isn’t working and grow from there.
By seeing what is working, we want to cater to that audience and provide them more of that content. People know they can go on YouTube or any of our social media platforms and get content from us on a regular basis. That shows that we are a reliable source.
AR: Tell me a little bit about those brand partnerships and how you’ve been able to make social media into a revenue driver for the station.
KS: It’s been an incredible year on that. Being able to push our partners in that relationship between our fans and our talent has been a top priority.
I would say one of the biggest things I’m proud about is a campaign that we had with Bibigo – the official Jersey patch of the Los Angeles Lakers. One of their big priorities was brand awareness. Their product wasn’t being pushed to the forefront by the Lakers. So they turned to us as a team partner of the Lakers for ways of continue improving that relationship.
We were able to, with communication with the Lakers, put the product in the players’ hands on media day. It was a huge win for us and a huge win for them. The players actually loved having Bibigo in their hands, tasting the product, eating it on camera with us. In these meetings, we had the idea of having fun with it. Doing a a dumpling dunk contest in adding style points to the piece.
One of the biggest compliments that you can get is from fans who are watching the video and saying, ‘This doesn’t feel like an ad.’ That means you did your job. It’s another level for us to not just put up an ad but to organically integrate our partners into the content that we’re already doing. We’re used to having fun with players on media day. Now we integrate a partner to it.
Also, if you watch our social media live stream, we have lower thirds integrating a logo from the partner. Maybe it’s a promo code or an offer that talent are passionately pushing. It’s just about finding different ways to include the partner in the relationship between talent and fans. And it gets hilarious sometimes when you’re watching the YouTube livestream and you look in the chat and totally unprovoked you have fans talking about the product that they see. Not because we’re forcing them to do this but because our fans are becoming passionate about the partners that we have.
AR: Speaking of partnerships, being a flagship station is huge in the radio business. You already mentioned the Lakers and the Rams. How have those partnerships opened up doors in terms of social content?
KS: Because of how we approach our team partnerships, we want to be able to bridge our fans and give them the same access that we have. I remember growing up when I was an intern, I’d get these awesome opportunities to be in the Lakers locker room talking to Kobe [Bryant] and Pau [Gasol]. That was a lifetime dream for me. I grew up with Laker fans in my family and my friends. They wanted to see the same things that I see and I grew that foundation into what we believe here at ESPN Los Angeles.
We want to connect our fans, as much as possible to be the eyes and the ears of the content. As if they were a fly on the wall inside Crypto or SoFi stadium. We know not every fan can afford to be there and we know not every fan has the same access that we do. But we want to share that access as much as possible.
We know it is also on the team to be gatekeepers of this content at times, and we are ready for them to say no. But as long as we have unique ideas and perspectives to share their stories, the teams are usually behind it. Because of that, it goes back to the reliability that we have and fans knowing that they’re going to get some of the best in-depth content from us, not just from the official team accounts.
I found it interesting that not every radio station approaches it that way. As a team partner, we want to provide social content that is similar, maybe even sometimes better than a one-sided voice from the official team accounts.
AR: You talked about measuring what works and what doesn’t. Social gives you a ton of data points to work with so, what do you feel are the biggest social and digital KPIs for you?
KS: It’s definitely got to be engagement. I know a lot of partners measure their success in impressions. GKB measures their success with followers. I love having the largest sports radio social media following in the country, that’s something I’m proud of. But knowing that we have an audience that continues to engage with the content, brings the impressions and the followers. I don’t think it’s the same story the other way.
Knowing that our fans aren’t just following us because we told them to or maybe because of a contest. But they actually follow because they believe in our content and want to see more.
I had a great discussion with one of my teammates about this. I asked, what are you more proud about on this post? Was it the 100 likes in the first two or three minutes or the 120 comments that came from it? We said it’s the comments because of the energy that your fans spend to engage to react to content. It takes more energy to comment then to double tap and scroll on to the next post. Our job is to make you stop scrolling. Not only did you see it because you follow us, but you stopped scrolling because you were passionate enough to engage with our content.
To me, that is more critical and valuable because we took your time.
AR: You guys do great and exciting content around teams but let’s bring it inside the station. Tell me what you believe are the keys to creating good social content out of radio.
KS: I feel so lucky to have a team of clowns. Not only do I have professional talent, who are great at what they do on radio. They have personalities, and I think that translates well on social media. Any vanilla person can deliver a message, but they integrate their hot takes with uniqueness. Our talent do a great job of that.
When you look at the numbers, and their followings, they’ve built them because of the persona that they’ve created themselves. I think it’s our job at ESPN LA in our social media accounts, to just supplement it. It’s not on us to build their persona. That’s on them, and our role is to continue showcasing it.
For example, Scott Kaplan is willing to integrate partners in unique ways. He’s thinking about things the same way that we are, not just looking to put a logo on something or read a sponsor tagline. He’s trying to find ways to implement it in his message in his content, and it’s awesome.
One person I want to mention, in particular, is Chris Morales. We’re lucky to have him. The radio industry would be so much better if there was a Chris Morales at every station because he gives that extra level of pushing talent to pursue ways of not being boring in integrating a partner or engaging other talent.
It’s unique, and it challenges us every day. Because of that, we’ve built a franchise like the Mandy’s where fans are willing to show up to root for our own talent to get awards from ourselves. It’s such a unique scenario that I don’t think everybody can duplicate.
One thing I want to add is- and this further supports the growth of the talent without our social media channels -on X, each of the shows (Travis and Sliwa, Mason and Ireland, Sedano and Kaplan) have their own X communities. They interact with their P1 listeners without [the social team] engaging with them. It’s all self driven, the producers and the talent are in there talking with their fans. Fans are talking with each other. They don’t need [@ESPNLosAngeles] to continue to push that message.
AR: Would you recommend that to other stations and other markets… breaking it up by show?
KS: That’s an interesting question. I actually looked across the GKB markets, and we were asked about our predictions for 2024. I said that social media would be more engaging in a smaller space. So being more of a private social media community, meaning like communities where you have to be a member, which provides that feeling of exclusivity.
If we decided to do show social media accounts, anybody can click follow. But to be part of a community, you must actually be a listener. You can set up quiz questions to be part of it.
This, again, creates that feeling that I don’t need to post something that is going to be seen by everybody. I’m just going to post something to the audience that actually cares about it. Because of that, it’s a more efficient way of getting your message out.
AR: You mentioned that you’re lucky to have a full digital team around you. But not all stations are like that. What advice do you have for stations that have one or maybe a few part-time people working on the digital and social side?
KS: I’m willing to bet there is at least one person who is interested in starting a social media page for the station. Continue to provide them with opportunities where they can grow the station in ways that are challenging right now. We know this current market isn’t prime for sports radio. This isn’t the golden era of sports radio. But to find ways to connect to a younger audience, even a larger audience that you may never have tapped into, social media is a great space for that.
There’s so much young talent coming out of school, that are social media savvy, that a lot of us in the radio business who have been in it for a while, may not be thinking that forward. In sports radio, we’re finding ways to connect with an audience. It’s the same with social media just on a different channel.
For us at ESPN Los Angeles, we don’t view ourselves as a radio station that is on from 6am to 7pm. We are always on because you can interact and reach out via our social media platforms, which are 24-25 hours, eight days a week.
Alex Reynolds serves as Barrett Media’s Digital Director. In this role, he oversees all social media scheduling and content creation, monitoring of the brands analytics, and contributes to the brand’s newsletters, conferences, and websites. Originally from Rockville, Maryland, Alex is a passionate lacrosse fan, and graduate of Elon University. He can be found on Twitter @Reynolds14_.
WWE’s Paul Heyman Joins the 2024 BSM Summit
“I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes.”
The final few weeks leading up to the BSM Summit are my least favorite time of the entire process. Between last-minute preparations, unexpected changes, laying out a schedule that fits everyone’s schedule, giving speakers direction, and handling the creative for the banners, programs and what appears on the screen, it can be overwhelming. This event isn’t created and produced by a large organization. It’s done by BSM’s small team and a few volunteers. There is no production team. That’s me. There is no sales team. That’s Stephanie. The creative squad that brainstorms ahead of the show? That’s me peppering Dave Greene, Demetri Ravanos and Stephanie Eads with every single thing that pops into my head.
I share this because on Monday I’ll be releasing our full schedule for the 2024 BSM Summit. You’ll find it on BarrettSportsMedia.com/Summit. If you type in BSMSummit.com it will take you to that page. I’m also hoping to announce our final collection of speakers. You guys will like some of the folks coming to speak who we’ve yet to announce.
Booking this event month’s in advance could be easily done. I could execute a radio conference in my sleep. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m focused on delivering a two-day event that unites professionals across the entire media universe, many who you may never share space with again. I believe in this concept because it helps you learn, stay sharp, discover what others do to create success that you may not have thought about, and in the process, you build new connections.
Creating an event that dives into radio, podcasting, social media, newsletters, television, video execution, sales and promotions, the economic climate, and programming strategy, requires thinking outside the box and swinging for the fences. Think about it. Where else are you going to hear the CEO of a radio company one minute, two local sports talk show hosts the next, four digital executives after that, four social media superstars once they’re done, and cap it all off with discussions about business, entertainment, and the future? It may not be perfect or rolled out the way a few would prefer but it works for us. By the time we hit the stage on March 13-14, that’s when the six months of hard work pay off and the fun begins.
Speaking of fun, if you’ve been to a Summit before, you’ve heard me connect the world of sports media to professional wrestling. The battle for audience attention, understanding how to leverage social media, incorporate advertising, create interest in on-air talent, and design programming to capture ratings are something the two world’s have in common. We’ve been fortunate to have Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff speak at prior shows but never have we had a speaker involved who’d be part of the upcoming main event for WrestleMania.
I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes. It is an honor to have the great Paul Heyman joining us at this year’s Summit.
If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Heyman, here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know. Currently, Paul serves as the special counsel for WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. Reigns has been world champion for 1269 days, and the storyline he’s involved in (The Bloodline) has been a massive hit on television and digital for the WWE. Roman will be competing in the main event at the WWE’s largest show of the year, WrestleMania with Heyman in his corner. The event has become so big that The Rock has returned to become part of the story.
As an on-air character, Heyman is gifted in his ability to command the audience’s attention. His promos are always well thought out, well executed, and interesting. Learning about his process as a talent and what goes into creating a compelling monologue is going to be a real treat for on-air folks in the room.
In addition, Paul is an accomplished writer, executive, promoter and booker. He’s served as the lead writer for both WWE RAW and Smackdown, leading both to the top of the ratings charts. He’s also been on the other side as the leader of an underdog promotion (ECW) tasked with building a brand and competing against the top dog, WWE. Paul is also well versed in advertising having co-founded the Looking4Larry Agency, which is known for its wildly imaginative campaigns for 2K Sports, NASCAR, Smart Cups, Monster Trucks, EA Sports and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas.
Talent have praised his creative ideas and ability to design and structure compelling television. Audiences have emotionally connected to his on-air commentaries, and on Wednesday March 13th, BSM Summit attendees will learn what it takes to create, cut through, and command the room’s attention when I sit down with Paul Heyman for an in-depth conversation.
A reminder, tickets for the 2024 BSM Summit are on-sale through BSMSummit.com and the BSM Store. Prices will increase on March 4th so act now and save money before it’s too late. I hope to see you in NYC in three weeks.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at [email protected].
Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones
There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.
Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.
In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.
The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.
Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”
Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.
Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.
When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.
We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.
Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.
If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.
We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.
I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things. There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at [email protected].
Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit
“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”
Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.
“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”
Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.
Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.
“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”
The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans?
Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!
“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”
Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled.
According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage.
“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”
Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.
“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’
“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].